CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Moments after Marine Helicopter Squadron-1 helicopters landed near W.P.T. Hill Field April 3, President George W. Bush entered into a sea of more than 20,000 enthusiastic Marines, sailors and military families.
Accompanied by the first lady, Laura Bush, the president saluted Major Gen. David M. Mize, commanding general, Marine Corps Base, and acknowledged the Marines' accomplishments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and to thank families for their sacrifices associated with a military lifestyle.
The president lauded the Lejeune-based Marines by citing their significant achievements in Al Nasiriyah, Iraq, and assisting in the rescue of former prisoner of war Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch.
"In the 14 days since the major ground war began, the Marine Corps has added new achievements to its great story," said Bush. "I am proud to lead such brave and decent Americans."
The president also thanked families for enduring extended separations during deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"All of America is thankful for your sacrifice," said Bush. "And Laura and I are here to thank each one of you."
Families here showed their support and appreciation with applause and cheers, accepting the president's grateful message.
"If my daddy has to be gone, (the president's visit) almost makes it bearable for me," said 10-year-old Sydney, whose father is deployed with a 2nd Force Service Support Group unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After speaking to the large gathering, the president had lunch with Marines and sailors at the 6th Marine Regiment dining facility. Marines attending the luncheon said they were honored to have the opportunity.
"I was very exited to meet the president," said Cpl. Peter M. Colombini, military police officer, Military Police Company, MCB. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The president and Mrs. Bush also met with families who lost loved ones during Operation Iraqi Freedom prior to departing. During the address the president expressed his sympathy and concern for these families.
"No one who falls will be forgotten by this grateful nation," said Bush. "We honor their service to America, and we pray their families will receive God's comfort and God's grace."